Penguins Miss the Mark with #HockeyvilleUSA

Fans packed the Cambria County War Memorial on May 2 to find out the winner of the first #HockeyvilleUSA contest

Fans packed the Cambria County War Memorial on May 2 to find out the winner of the first Hockeyville USA contest – (Photo courtesy of The Tribune-Democrat)

By: Jim Meinecke

A contest that spanned multiple months, Hockeyville USA captivated towns across america. When the final ten cities were announced in April, Johnstown, PA found itself as one of the few remaining possibilities. The winner would receive money toward arena upgrades, but more importantly, the winning city would get to host a NHL preseason game. After weeks of voting, Johnstown was announced as the first, and original, winner of Hockeyville USA.

First, before I go further, I must say that I have a bias when writing this article. I grew up in Johnstown. I spent 17 years of my life in Johnstown. I spent a good portion of my childhood with season tickets to the Johnstown Chiefs. I learned about the game. I developed a love for my favorite sport during all of those years. I witnessed “old-time” hockey. I watched Slap Shot on repeat enough times that the lines, as is true for so many others, flow through my head. I learned about the Johnstown Jets and had a Don Hall jersey made for me in the fourth grade. I was lucky enough to see one of the Hanson Brothers, Steve Carlson, coach the Chiefs for a number of years. I developed a relationship with a friendly equipment manager for the Johnstown Chiefs, Dana Heinze, who would always provide hockey tape and sticks to kids who patiently waited after the game was over. My story is not unique, and it is just a small part of why Johnstown makes the perfect original Hockeyville USA.

When news continued to come in about Hockeyville USA events — weekend golf outing, a Gala event the evening prior, a morning skate with both teams, a red carpet event, and a nationally televised preseason game on NBC Sports — the excitement only grew. It was clear that while this was a preseason game, it had more meaning for the league, the city, and for the fans who are lucky enough to be a part of any of the festivities.

NBC Sports has been touting this event since Johnstown was announced as the winner. A recent article in the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat detailed how they are bringing their ‘A’ crew to call the event (Doc Emrick, Jeremy Roenick, and Pierre McGuire). Ron Musselman, a Reporter/Columnist for The Tribune-Democrat, tweeted this out today:

Musselman Tweet

That’s right…the NHL commissioner and one of the living legends of hockey will attend Hockeyville USA tonight.

I am sure everyone knows where I am going with this by now, but the absence of Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang leave a bad taste in my mouth. Heck, even fan favorite Pascal Dupuis is noticeably absent. I get that this is ‘only a preseason game’. I also get that ‘Johnstown should just be thankful for the exhibition’. To both of those things I say, does it feel like a preseason game? Does the league view it as just another preseason game? Does the city of Johnstown think of it as just another NHL preseason game? The answer to all of those is a resounding no. I also think the folks in Johnstown can be thankful and appreciative for the exhibition and still wonder where is “the face of the NHL” in Sidney Crosby? I also understand that for some strange reason the Penguins are playing three games in three days. I still don’t see this as an excuse. Some of the players playing tomorrow night, in a truly meaningless game — like Crosby, Fleury, Dupuis, and Perron — should be playing tonight. Even if they had limited minutes, they would at least still be dressed for this event.

I have been fortunate enough to see the Penguins play in Pittsburgh on multiple occasions. I have been fortunate to see stars like Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury in person. For many of the folks attending the festivities or going to the game in Johnstown tonight, they may not have that chance. For an event the league and its counterparts touted as such a large event featuring the stars of the game, it has certainly lost some of its luster. The original city of Hockeyville USA and its fans deserved better.